Second annual FRA Symposium on fundamental rights indicators

Welcome speech given by Morten Kjærum Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights at the 2nd annual FRA Symposium on fundamental rights indicators, Vienna.
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Morten Kjaerum's opening speech Symposium 2011

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Ladies and gentlemen,
it is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Fundamental Rights Agency’s
second annual Symposium. This is a unique event in the Agency’s calendar
gathering technical expertise from across the EU on fundamental rights issues.
By pooling your considerable knowledge and experience we hope that this
meeting can serve as an important spring board for future collaboration that can
increase the quality and innovation of your work and ours in developing
fundamental rights indicators.
Allow me to put three questions to you.
Would any of you ever consider driving at night in the countryside without
turning your headlights on?
Could any of you imagine the European Central Bank formulating its monetary
policy without first carefully consulting the Index of Consumer Prices?
And my third question. If noone would be so careless as to drive in the dark,
how can we be comfortable with this situation when it comes to fundamental
rights?
I actually think we can not. If we want to move fundamental rights from
globally agreed, abstract, rhetorical standards, to the level of local, practical
implementation, then policy makers need headlights: they require a solid base
of evidence.
Today I would like to briefly cover three issues:
1). Firstly, what can fundamental rights indicators bring to policy making?
2). Secondly, how do fundamental rights indicators differ from existing
indicators?
3). Thirdly, what is the Agency’s role in developing indicators and where does
it go from here. How can we cooperate with you in this regard?

1). What can fundamental rights indicators bring to policy making?
They can:
• allow decision makers to see the state of implementation of rights on the
ground.
• They can allow progress to be tracked which shows whether policies are
effective in practice, whether they need to be adapted to achieve desired
improvements.
• They can allow for comparability between Member States which permits
the systematic identification of good practices and the further integration
of the EU.
• And they can generate political momentum towards better rights
implementation as governments will wish to be seen to make progress.

2). I come to my second point: what can our initiatives on indicators add to
existing work?
There exists a considerable amount of work on human rights indicators
developed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights. At the same time, socio-economic indicators with relevance to human
rights have also been developed by other organisations, including the European
Commission.
The work of the OHCHR offers an overarching methodological framework for
human rights indicators which the Agency has already followed in its work on
child rights indicators. The OHCHR’s work is rooted in universal human rights
standards.
We can easily build on this by adapting them to the particular situation of the
EU.
Let me give you an example of this adaption. The EU’s socio-economic
situation differs from that of other regions. For instance, in the context of
education, indicators asking whether free compulsory primary education exists
may not be meaningful because in an EU context this is more or less a given.
Rather in an EU context indicators might be more directed to questions such as
the proportion of children from ethnic or other minority groups in mainstream
education as opposed to schools for children with particular needs.
Turning to socio-economic indicators that are relevant to fundamental rights.
Bodies such as the European Commission, have developed indicators across a
range of subject areas that are relevant to fundamental rights, such as poverty
and social exclusion, education, pensions and health care.
We can build on this work by incorporating fundamental rights standards. This
could add at least three dimensions to existing indicators: enforceability, rights
substance and equality.
a). Firstly, it would add measurement of enforceability. To be made effective in
practice every fundamental right depends on an enforcement mechanism. So
fundamental rights indicators would track issues like whether complaints
mechanisms exist, and how often they are used.
b). Secondly, it would add measurement of substance. Fundamental rights
indicators would be based around the substance of the rights themselves. For
instance, indicators on health care might include questions relating to the
availability of family planning services, sexual health services catering for the
needs of lesbian or gay persons, or the availability of gender reassignment
services.
c). Thirdly, it would add measurement of equality, which lies at the heart of
fundamental rights. Fundamental rights indicators would require data to be
disaggregated on the basis of grounds like gender, age, ethnicity, disability,
religion or sexual orientation. Although this occurs to a degree with some
existing indicators, it is not done systematically across all grounds of
discrimination.
3). I come to my last question: What is the Agency’s role in developing
indicators, and where does the Agency go from here?

The Agency is mandated to collect and analyse reliable and robust data on
fundamental rights in the EU. On the basis of this information it offers advice
to the EU institutions and the Member States.
This mandate fulfils a real need. For example, two recent communications of
the Commission on the Roma and on persons with disabilities specifically
request the Agency to assist in monitoring progress in the Member States
towards the inclusion of these two groups.
However, as the Agency has continued to underline in its research over the
years, often data is not available at all, and in those areas where it is collected it
is often not comparable between Member States.
The Agency has addressed this problem through robust and reliable primary
research, such as its EU-MIDIS survey. It continues to do so with upcoming
surveys in other areas, such as a survey on discrimination against the Roma on
hate crime against Jews, violence against women and homophobia.
These surveys are of great value, both in generating comparable data, and as a
source of indicators.
But it is also important to consider that the Agency cannot collect data on this
scale about all fundamental rights in all Member States all of the time. These
EU-wide surveys require significant resources and this limits the number of
topics that can be covered and the number of people who can be interviewed by
the Agency.
So fundamental rights indicators can ensure that the Agency’s own primary
data collection is complemented by the collection of comparable data by the
Member States themselves.
So, finally, ladies and gentlemen, what do we hope to achieve here today and in
the follow-up to this Symposium?
The Agency invites you to offer your expertise in exploring how fundamental
rights indicators could be developed further:
• What challenges are we facing?
• How can we ensure that these indicators would build upon and
complement existing work in this area?
• What scope exists for cooperation between us and your organisations
and governments?
• What areas could the Agency concentrate on?
In the short term, the Agency will follow up this Symposium with a discussion
paper and organise further expert meetings which will be shaped, of course, by
the outcome of discussions today and tomorrow.
In the long term, the Fundamental Rights Agency hopes to develop a concrete
set of indicators in cooperation with you and other relevant stakeholders in the
EU that can be made available to the EU institutions, to the Member States,
International Organisations and civil society.
I will conclude by underlining that indicators offer an opportunity to improve
the quality of evidence based advice – and with this, the quality of people’s
ability to enjoy their rights in practice and not just on paper. In this sense,
fundamental rights indicators are not just an “optional extra” but a “must” if we
are to implement fundamental rights fully.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now, let us turn on the headlights, so that we can drive progress forward
without losing our way.
Thank you all for travelling with us.